How To Get Started As A Real Estate Photographer?

May 10th, 2015

OnlineTrainingSeveral people a week ask the following kind of question:

My name is Danny and I have an interest in becoming a real estate photographer, although I have no experience in this industry. I am very eager to learn everything there is to know about how to take real estate pictures, to starting a business etc. I would like the opportunity to work for a real estate photographer so I can learn everything I need to know about this business. I live in Hicksville, NY and I work nights for the USPS. I’m not only looking to do something during the day for extra income, I’m also looking to be my own boss. I would be very greatful if someone can let me know of any real estate photographer that is willing to teach me this business or how can I learn all of this on my own and what books to read.

Everything we do here on the PFRE blog is aimed at educating real estate photographers. This goal grew out of my frustration in 2000 with the lack of resources available for learning real estate photography when I needed it. Here are a number of things to consider when you are getting started:

  1. Getting real estate photographers in your local area to help you get started:  You are not likely to have success with this approach because most independent real estate photographers don’t want to train more competition for themselves. You can try it but, few have reported success.
  2. Beware of working for large real estate companies: Because the profit margin is so low in the real estate photography business, many (not all) large companies try to get beginning real estate photographers to shoot for them and pay them almost nothing ($30 to $60 a shoot). They frequently also ask you to sign non-compete contracts. Be very careful about signing up for one of these jobs!
  3. PFRE e-books: The first e-book I wrote, is a direct result of helping agents in my wife’s real estate office in Issaquah, WA market their listings. We’ve expanded the number real estate photography training e-books over the last several years so we now publish five.
  4. Workshops: Scott Hargis and I and others did one of the first real estate photography workshops in April of 2008 in Seattle. Seeing Scott’s lighting technique at this workshop lead me to convince Scott to write his e-book lighting interiors. Scott went on to do many workshops around the world for many years. Scott does a great workshop! Attend if you ever get a chance.
  5. Video Tutorials:
    • Lighting For Real Estate Photography Video Series: Scott and Malia, also created Scott’s lighting video series which I believe replicates 90+% of Scott’s workshops. Sure, it doesn’t replace the social and networking part of the workshops. But if you just focus on the real estate photography education part, I claim that Scott’s Lighting Interiors e-book and video series together do a better job of teaching you Scott’s lighting technique for less money than it would cost to attend one of Scott’s workshops. Even if it was right where you live.
    • Enfuse For Real Estate Photography Video SeriesIn March 2015 we launched a video series by Simon Maxwell that details how to shoot with LR/Enfuse as a technique. This approach is a bracketing approach that works better than most of the traditional HDR processing used in real estate photography.
  6. Revolution in Education: Education in general is evolving rapidly towards online video learning. Khan Academy and MIT’s MOOC experiments are showing that online classes mixed with a regular teacher personal interaction is highly effective, inexpensive and scalable to large numbers.
  7. PFRE flickr group: This flickr group is a open forum for getting feedback on your work from many of the best real estate photographers in the business.
  8. PFRE Monthly Contests: The monthly still and video contests are a way to study what the best in this business are doing. Every month the entries in two contests are judged and commented on my past contest winners.
  9. PFRE coaching network: This last summer we launched the PFRE coaching network which is a group of some of the very best real estate photographers worldwide that are willing to coach beginning real estate photographers. These coaches use Skype and Google Hangouts to tailor their coaching to students needs. Coaching provides that much needed, complementary personal contact to e-books and video tutorials

In summary, I’m a big advocate of the classroom style real estate photography and videography workshops that Scott, Malia and Oliver provide. They are the best choice when they are available. However, the fact is, in the future there is going to be more training done in this new online/personal style than there is in a personal face-to-face classroom setting. That’s just a fact of life driven by the cost and effectiveness of online/remote learning.


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5 Responses to “How To Get Started As A Real Estate Photographer?”

  • Just get out there and work hard! Make contacts, build relationships, go to Open Houses, go to Real Estate Offices, hand out flyers, etc… do EVERYTHING you have to do to make your business a success! I had NO idea what I was doing when I first started out and looking back it was the best thing for me because I did it all myself, no one handed anything to me. Now I’ve built a successful real estate photo biz with no end in sight! Hard work pays off. Work hard, play hard! You can do it!

  • Danny, you didn’t mention how much experience you have in photography. Real estate photography, especially interiors is challenging to get good results and you need to be comfortable using your camera in manual mode. The equipment you start off with doesn’t have to be brand new and on the bleeding edge. Your skill in composition and lighting will be the largest factor in the quality of your images. Larry has a post on some basic starter packages and there are lots of suggestions in the comments below the article. I got a good head start with tutorials posted to YouTube. You have to sift a lot of sand to find the gems, but there are some useful posts. Just remember it’s the results that matter not the technique. Learn and practice all the methods that you can to conquer any challenges you come across., and CreativeLive all have photo and post processing tutorials that are professionally produced and worth every dollar.

    Get a couple of subscriptions to high end real estate magazines like Distinctive Homes, Unique Homes and Luxe. The photography is often exceptional and will give you some examples of how to create lust for a home in under 12 photos. On the other end of the scale, always be looking at listings in your area and keep track of what you don’t like in the images that get posted. I get a great education in what NOT to do as I comb through the listings in my area.

    The “business” side of your business should not be dismissed. Larry has many articles on how to determine what you need to charge to stay in business. One of the biggest mistakes photographers make is charging too little and not keeping track of all the expenses. The Man® comes down hard on independent businessman when it comes to taxes. Spend a little money to bend a CPA’s ear and find out what your taxes might be for your photo business. You may need to be stashing away 1/3 or more of your gross income and paying in every quarter so you don’t wind up at the end of the year owing a large chunk of change in taxes and penalties.

    The discussions are endless on whether to formulate pricing by the square footage of the home, the list price, the number of pictures or even time & materials. Again, Larry has lots of posts here on the web site and there are many more on the Flickr group. Don’t let your day (night) job pay for your side job. At most, it should only be providing some start up funds for equipment, software and advertising.

    Get out and meet agents. Find out if there is a local chamber of commerce that sponsors mixers in your town. Look into joining your local real estate association, they’re the people that operate the MLS in your area and most accept affiliate members that aren’t agents but are involved in the real estate business. I generate most of my business by getting out and talking with agents.

    Don’t work for “free”. If you feel that you will have a chance at getting a bunch of work from an agent or a whole office and are willing to do a (one) job as a sample, invoice it at full price and put in a 100% discount line item labeled “Introductory Sample” or some such so they will see what the job would have cost. Terms, conditions and licensing should all be in place whether there is a net due on the invoice or not. The main thing is to avoid using the word “free”. Also, check that the agent has a sales history and current listings. If they are only turning 4 properties a year, they shouldn’t qualify for a no-charge introductory unless those 4 were the highest priced homes in the area. Top market homes will often get you the best portfolio material, but be careful as while the agent may rake in a nice living on the commissions, for you it will only be a day or two of work.

  • Post your images to Flickr and get involved. Having others critique your work is gold. I went to school for graphic design and photography and 80% was critiquing others and having your work critiqued.

  • Just my 2 cents worth, How we got started, da Wife and Me. It took about a year for us to move to the better agents and brokers in Myrtle Beach. My “for what it’s worth” is the following”:

    1. Get yourself a used DSLR, we started with a Nikon D70, available now for less than $ 100 used. The camera you use “MUST BRACKET” a minimum of +2, 0, -2.

    2. Sigma 10-20 wide angle lens, Wide Angle is a “Must” lens, ebay $ 200. We shot with it 100% at first, if the nikon has a kit lens, that gives you “All” you need.

    3. Learn to “Bracket, +2,0,-2 -> sit with the camera and the manual, (free PDF on web), pages 87-91, until you are comfortable with your bracketing tests.

    4. Tripod, the best and steadiest you can afford. We finally worked up to carbon fiber Manfrotto.

    5. Google Photomatix – you will want Photomatix Pro, try the trial version 1st if you want… This is the best purchase you will ever make…

    6. Don’t waste time on “HDR”, not for Real Estate, photomatix –> Exposure Fusion “Only”…..
    Learn it, practice it, over time you will fall in love with it.

    7. Go to a few “Open Houses” of moderate homes and offer the “Agent” a few “FREE” Pro Photos.
    You will get experience, you will find the areas you need to improve, you will find what you do good.

    Depending, eventually an Agent will Call You to Come back.

    8. Obviously you have practiced at home, interior and exterior shots, until you feel like you are ready, please, not before, avoid the embarrassment of sending Junk.

    9. Learn to use DropBox for delivery.

    10. Learn how to downsize you photos for MLS.

    11. Even in the beginning don’t shoot for less than $ 99, free at 1st until someone likes what you do.
    email us at if you have a question.

    Now – You will receive many rants on how stupid “My” advise is, I will not respond to those acclaimed experts. These steps worked for us and still do, Good Luck, it’s fun after an Agent admits you are Great.

  • I will be getting my business license sometime next week to make the state and city happy and then it’s off to the races. My backgraoun is in sales dealing with high level people who needed very expensive and eleborate video security equipment. I also have been a photographer for the last 30 years but only aa a hobby shooting nature and landscapes.
    I am in Aubrey’s camp in that you have to get out there and meet a lot of agents. I also believe that setting a website is very important since you can’t go to an agent and get his or her attention without showing some idea of your talent. This brings me to another point. You may have to shoot some homes for free to get the shots on your web page. This will give you a better understanding of what your up against. When you get this opportunity, don’t rush it. take your time unless you have been told otherwise. My first shoot took 2 hours but guess what, it paid off. I got lots of referals from that shoot so it only took 2 or 3 homes to fill the website with photos. I am now charging but the Aubry was correct in saying to get out and make pals with the agents. Remember there could be a down time where you live, like may Winter and you have to increase your pool of agents to pull business from.
    That’s my 2 or maybe 4 cents worth.

    Pete Malan /

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